"A first-class piece of journalism..." -- David Margolick, Vanity Fair*

The Fens: Then and Now

In Boston Individualists, Hidden History on May 30, 2011 at 11:29 am

A Frederick Law Olmstead creation, the Fens is a marshy park a mile from downtown Boston. The Fenway neighborhood which got its name from the park, is comprised of college students, longtime residents, and the Red Sox.   According to an article on Boston.com, Olmstead came up with the name, “Fens” because he wanted people to think of it as a place to see, rather than a place to use, according to an article on Boston.com.  Parks are for running around, frisbee, and walking dogs.  As a verdant, marshy area, The Fens is more of a vegetative tableau vivant.

What is not stated in this article is at least as interesting as what is.

For generations of gay men (and on occasion, their bashers), the Fens has had a different connotation. It is a well-known meeting place for men looking for sex with other men.  The tall reeds that invaded the park years ago, provide them with that most elusive urban amenity, privacy in a public place. Now, the city plans to irradicate the reeds and along with it, a slice of social history that remained hidden just as it did in this article — in a public place.

The irradication effort makes sense since what is meant to be seen is now clogged with reeds that grow like crab grass.  A greater acceptance of the gay community may make public assignations less urgent.  Is the use of the Fens in this way a relic of a more closeted society?  Time will tell.


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